Writer, journalist, composer, musician and music critic, broadcaster, artist and poet – Peter Gammond was a Cheshire boy who made his name in the world of the Arts, and by explaining how to be a bluff your way through life.

Born in Winnington, Northwich, on September 30, 1925, Gammond was the son of clerical worker John Gammond (1892-1970), who worked for ICI at its Winnington Works, and Margaret née Heald (1898-1985). He had one sister, Suzanne. Young Peter’s musical abilities were seemingly passed down through the paternal genes: his father was a repairer of instruments and a decent practitioner of the cello. Gammon Junior would play the piano as a child.

He attended prep school in the village of Weaverham, just west of Northwich, a place that would be his home from 1930-50, and was the second poet to have links with this place – Audrey Beecham (1915-89) had been born in the village 15 years before Gammond arrived. Gammond’s next alma mater was Sir John Deane’s Grammar, Northwich, from where he obtained a scholarship to Manchester College of Art. However, his artistic ambitions were interrupted by the long slog of WW2. He was called up in 1943, when he was 18, serving as a tank driver in the Royal Armoured Corps. He saw action in the Far East but ended his military service with the 25th Dragoons in India during that fractious period leading up to Indian independence.

Gammond's return to civvy street was not until 1947 when sources state he resumed his studies with a stint at Wadham College, Oxford, where he read English until1950. It’s said he became well known in poetic circles during this Oxford sojourn, his work appearing in Oxford Poetry, a literary magazine, with the student newspaper Cherwell, also publishing his writing and cartoons. He became poetry editor of the university mag, The ISIS and found time to compose an operetta as well as playing trombone in a university jazz band.

After leaving Oxford and a couple of stop-gaps, including as a rates-assessor, he worked for Decca’s publicity department (1952-60) as an editor/writer, in which capacity he fraternised with some of the leading operatic and classical artistes of the time. Gammond married Anna Hodgson in 1956, a union that bestowed two sons. After Decca, he set himself up as a freelance writer and author and critic. He was also a public speaker. Gammond would edit a record review magazine from 1964-80. He was also a prolific writer of record sleeve notes and a regular broadcaster for BBC Radio. Those sleeve notes were Gammond’s hallmark and have been described as meticulous, witty, stylish and elegant. He completed more than 300 of them.

He had in excess of 40 books published. These included biographies of some of the leading classicists including Mozart, namely in The Magic Flute: A Guide to the Opera (1979), Offenbach (1980 and 1986) and Schubert (1982). There’s also his own poetry, plus guides to the work of Poet Laureate John Betjeman (Gammond was both chairman and later vice-president of the Betjeman Society and edited its magazine, The Betjemanian between 1996-2006). A prolific poet himself, Gammond was indisputably a Betjeman devotee, writing and appearing in two films about the railway-loving poet.

Intriguingly, several of Peter Gammond’s many books were contributions to the Bluffer’s Guides series, those cunning pocket-sized affairs that enable you to pass yourself off as an expert when you’re, well, not. There’s Bluff Your Way in Music (1966), which launched the series and was a best-seller, Bluff Your Way in British Class (1986), Bluff Your Way in Jazz (1987), The Bluffer’s Guide to Opera (1993) and The Bluffer’s Guide to Golf (1999). Perhaps the best of the lot is The Bluffer’s Guide to Bluffing (1987), presumably the no-holds-barred encyclopaedia of the genre. Gammond can be found not only in print but also via recordings and film. There are several LPs featuring him, including a couple devoted to musical comedy, plus he made a cameo appearance playing the piano in the film Ragtime (1981), which happened to be the final movie for James Cagney.

Peter Gammond died on 6th May, 2019 aged 93. The Times wrote a tribute to him in which it lauded the way he pioneered the art of talking out of the top of one’s head.

Great British Life: Members of the Betjeman Society are pictured in 2004 on a visit to Diss in south Norfolk, one of the poet's favourite towns. Peter Gammond (then vice chairman) is pictured left. Paul Hewitt, EDP PicsMembers of the Betjeman Society are pictured in 2004 on a visit to Diss in south Norfolk, one of the poet's favourite towns. Peter Gammond (then vice chairman) is pictured left. Paul Hewitt, EDP Pics


1925 – Birth of Peter Gammond in Winnington, Northwich (September 30)

1943 – Aged 18, Gammond becomes a tank driver during WW2

1947 – Leaves the Army, resuming his studies at Wadham, Oxford

1952 – Joins Decca’s publicity department (until 1960)

1956 – Marries Anna Hodgson

1966 – The first of Gammond’s Bluffer’s Guides, Bluff Your Way in Music, is published

1981 – Cameo appearance playing the piano in the film Ragtime

1987 – Gammond’s The Bluffer’s Guide to Bluffing is published, the Bible of the genre

2019 – Death of Peter Gammond (May 6) aged 93